NEW YORK / GENEVA, 4 April 2002 - The United Nations Children's Fund expressed grave concern today over the fate of thousands of children that the Ugandan government said were abandoned in southern Sudan over the weekend by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA.)
UNICEF has asked the Ugandan government for clarification regarding its assertion on Saturday that the LRA abandoned the children during a Ugandan government offensive in southern Sudan. According to remarks made by Ugandan defense officials, the children are in the hands of the Sudanese government, and will eventually be turned over to humanitarian agencies. However, so far the UNICEF offices in Uganda and Sudan have received no other indication that children were in fact released by the LRA.
"The Ugandan government has made clear that the purpose of its military campaign in southern Sudan is to destroy the LRA while also securing the release of thousands of children abducted by the LRA. But we have yet to see any evidence that the children are being rescued," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF.
"We need to find out where these children are and then do everything possible to ensure their protection and, ultimately, their reunification with their families."
UNICEF reiterated its long-held stand that the LRA must unconditionally release all children it has abducted over the years to serve as soldiers, porters and sex slaves. According to a UNICEF-supported registration system, some 5,555 children are still missing. Over the last decade, around 10,000 children have been abducted from their homes in northern Uganda and forced to march to camps in southern Sudan where they have endured unthinkable abuse and been forced to participate in brutal acts of violence.
"Release by the LRA is essential ," Bellamy said. "But this is just the first step. The children must be found, cared for, and given education and a chance to recover. That process can only begin if we have access to them."